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10 top tips and ideas to WIN at Exhibitions and Trade Shows

Insider Guide to Running Exhibitions

10 top tips and ideas to WIN at Exhibitions and Trade Shows

Martin Rutherford, founder of The Racing Bug; leading event and exhibitions solution provider, lists tips for maximising success at exhibitions and trade shows.


  1. Embrace the ROI (Return On Investment)

  2. Avoid the hidden cost pitfalls

  3. Plan to succeed

  4. Deliver WOW factor

  5. Shun the “Bragging Rights” trophy

  6. Employ the best people

  7. Deploy winning behaviours

  8. Love thy neighbour

  9. Make gifts work

  10. Understand your world


Everything you wanted to know about winning at exhibitions and trade shows but were afraid to ask ?

1. Embrace the ROI (Return On Investment)

Start by carefully considering the commercial argument for your attendance at the show.Don't assume, just because it's your industry and the sales chap seems very nice that it’s commercially advantageous for you to attend the show.Exhibition and Trade Show attendance is a significant commitment, particularly when the costs are properly analysed (beyond the headline numbers).It will typically absorb a healthy portion of your marketing budget, so do the sums and have a clear set of beneficial objectives - Otherwise, do something else!

2. Avoid the hidden cost pitfalls

Obviously, you’ve added up the cost of the space and your hotels but be realistic about the true cost of the project.Remember, exhibition add-on's like carpet, lighting, power, compulsory insurances, exhibitor parking and (too often nowadays) booking charges!

Consider also, the fact that some poor soul will be investing a significant chunk of their life, wading through the exhibitor manual.There'll be a heap of form filling, H&S certification and ordering to do to satisfy the ever-increasing stack of documentation required just to get you in the door.While you’re considering the cost of this, make sure you do some quick maths for the time cost of everyone who'll be involved in the event.

Next you need to consider how you're going to equip your space.There are obviously countless businesses out there happy to help you with all or part of this. The do's and don’ts are a whole other list.In short, just make sure everyone involved is working towards objectives.

3. Plan To Succeed

A) Invite your targets.

Find out what marketing campaign the organisers are implementing and consider running your own campaign to attract your target visitors to attend the show.Any forward-thinking organiser will be only too pleased to provide you with digital content and/or print media to help promote the event in advance.Busy customers are far more likely to commit time to visit you if faced with the prospect of viewing a range of offerings all in one place.

B) Prepare a Quick-Fire response.

Before the show, write a quick universal contact e-mail ready to be sent straight away to any contacts made at the show.You may have more specific responses to send on later but this just makes sure they have your contact details in their mailbox.

They’re far more likely to find this than the business card you put in their bag at the event - which now swims alongside several thousand other cards and 20 stress balls.

C) Follow up - As important as being there!

Plan the follow up in advance.Consider how you're going to convert contacts into clients and ensure the follow up is comprehensive.Don't collect data you have no intension of using but do plan fast and efficient ways of recording information about contacts made.

4. Deliver WOW Factor

A) Deliver a comfortable stop - Including self-service.

Design your stand to be a comfortable and engaging place to stop.The stand must deliver 'engagement'.You're unlikely to have capacity for personal interactions with every potential client so it's important that your stand delivers, with or without staff.

B) Appeal to the senses.

A useful check list - Ok it might not be appropriate to create a nice smell but at the very least don't create a bad one! Check your stand appeals with Visuals, Sound, and Things to touch and feel.Taste and Smell are also no bad thing if appropriate!

C) Be Inclusive - Don't invest in the Lucky Few

Everyone’s welcome! If you're offering VIP area's, experiences or sampling, make sure that you're equipped to offer them as widely as possible and don't confuse healthy client aspiration with restrictive elitism.Remember a new client is no less important than an existing one.

One of the coolest features I've ever seen at an exhibition was a full blown 'wave runner' surfing experience.Looked awesome - and who knew such a thing could even be event portable!The unfortunate downside though, was the small army of staff committed throughout the show (on one of the hottest weekends of the year) trying to explain to endless mortified visitors why they wouldn't be able to have a go!The very limited number of experiences on offer was oversubscribed weeks before the show started - A gold plated PR calamity!

D) WOW them with technology!

Easier than it sounds…Even the most basic technology somehow seems be become cutting edge when it’s used at events.Replace paper notepads and enquiry forms with tablets. Mount an action cam somewhere interesting (if you don’t have a moving prop, think something as simple as a goldfish bowl) and broadcast the image on a large screen.

Ensure it’s tried and tested and isn’t going to let you down or cause a distraction.

E) Add video content providing the key messages you would like to portray to every visitor

Even on the lowest budget, embrace the magic of television. A looped video projecting the key points of your business is worth a million-static graphics pinned to the wall of your stand.

5. Shun the “Bragging Rights” trophy

Avoid the temptation to try to outgun you competitors by simply spending more money.As with other things in life, success stems from how you use your resources, not how big they are.Visitors appreciate vibrancy, innovation, flair and engagement. Make each visit memorable and they’ll soon forget how big your competitors stand was.

6. Employ the best People

A) Motivate & Smile

The people employed are obviously the most important asset on your stand.Exhibition and Trade Shows can and should, be a great team experience.It’s important to ensure that everyone working the stand is well briefed and fully motivated.Ensure the whole team understands the wider objective of your presence at the event and the expected ROI.Consider fun ways to reward staff for good results, it will help your staff stay energetic throughout the day.

Smiling costs nothing; aim to create a buzz surrounding your brand and employees by promoting enthusiasm and fun.Provide people with something humorous they can pass along and you'll get the whole hall talking about you.

B) Embrace the Burn – then use it

Take a quick (or detailed) event cost and then divide it by the number of open hours to calculate your hourly 'Burn rate' for the show.Remember to include all the costs (see point 2 above).(I recommend having a stiff drink close at hand while you do this) - Then share this number with the team, it will reinforce the argument for many of the other golden rules on this list.

C) Guaranteed Openers

It's never a bad idea to remind show staff how to use guaranteed openers (as opposed to the mortal sin of 'Can I help you?' and the like).Discuss these with the team and share ideas so that everyone is armed with variety.'Are you familiar with our product x,y & z' - Never fails!

7. Deploy Winning Behaviours

A) Is someone available for a new customer to talk to NOW?

At any credible event the number of visitors that you don’t get a chance to talk can be significant. Hence, avoid the temptation for group meetings that tie up more than the most relevant member of stand staff. The ability to execute a polite exit from a conversation, once you've established your colleagues got it covered, is the mark of a true exhibition Pro.

B) Don't waste your breath!

Be prepared to let go. If it’s established that a visitor really isn't a client prospect, don't keep plugging away trying to find some minor link of common interest. Thank them for stopping by and wish them a great show but get yourself freed up for the next prospect.

C) Take a Step Back

When you're not engaged with a visitor, avoid the temptation to sink back into the warm, cosy confines of the stand. Unleash yourself out into the world where you can take a wide view over your stand and qualify visitors as they approach. You'll be far better placed to identify those who you'd be best to approach and the initial greeting is often far more comfortable side by side.

D) Get off the Phone!

I don’t need to explain this one - but sadly I still recognise the need to list it. There’s plenty of time to make that phone call when you’re not paying top dollar for the ground you’re stood on.

E) Don't book yourself up with pre-planned meetings

Exhibition time is expensive and valuable. If you have existing contacts to meet, go and meet them, buy them lunch, play golf - do whatever! Give them some one on one time but don't do it while you're also paying a small fortune for exhibition exposure.

8. LOVE thy neighbour

As far as I'm aware, our company is the only one permitted to take Phillips screwdrivers, gaffer tape, allen keys, velcro and sack barrows into exhibition halls.This can be the only explanation for the numerous requests we receive to borrow such items!My point though is our company policy is .If you're planning on being the vibrant 'hub' of the exhibition you need your exhibitor neighbours on-side and brought into your positivity. Yes, I realise you can't actually 'borrow' gaffer tape! But it's worth sacrificing a few rolls to guarantee yourself some allies.

9. Make Gifts Work

A) Give-aways that mean something

Branded goodies can be fun but make them relevant, useful and ideally interesting. If you have a budget sufficient for branded pens, stress balls and other 'typical' items, strive to make them work harder for you. Don't just include your logo; include a reason for the recipient to revisit your brand."Visit our show page for special discounts" or to "find out if you won the prize" etc.

Remember, this stuff isn't part of your core event strategy, it's just a reminder to build on what should already be a great show presence and personal interaction.

B) Avoid food and drink fixations

In my experience, most event visitors are pretty safe from starvation and/or dehydration.For those fuelled exclusively by coffee, it's unlikely that you'll be able to impress with the limited culinary facilities on your stand compared to the renowned international franchises scattered around every venue.

It pains me that every event I visit sees stands (not ours!) hosting bowls of unappealing pea-nuts, snacks, drying out buffet food, empty coffee cups or in fact, any food stuffs that generally only serve to make the space like a student's bedroom.Please be assured your visitors didn't come for lunch and they don't want to see it!

10. Understand your world

Exhibition time is invaluable when it comes to understanding your industry and competition plus their latest offerings. If you want to better understand your customers, take a wider view as opposed to just your stand. It will help you to be able to reference things that they've seen. Be prepared to explain the positive attributes of your offering over the one they've just been looking at on the other side of the hall.

Use build day or the time before doors open (or after close) to look around the venue and if you are taking a coffee break, do it while walking around.

We hope you find this guide useful and insightful. Having delivered over 500 exhibition and trade show projects worldwide, you'd think we've seen everything. However, we're still regularly amazed by the frequency with which we see the basic blunders being repeated!

The Racing Bug provide exhibition, trade show and event solutions that are the vibrant and atmospheric 'hub' of the event. We specialise in providing brand engagement that is truly memorable and delivering the 'conversations that matter'. We are always pleased to discuss your exhibition objectives and demonstrate over-delivery in every aspect of your promotion.


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